Dr Kathleen Forbes, Trainer in Trainee Education, Faculty of Social Sciences
This week, I had the pleasure to participate in a roundtable on reflective practices in initial teacher education. Chaired by the Deputy First Minister, the session saw education providers, policymakers, and mental health specialists from the third sector come together to discuss how encouraging student teachers and the teacher workforce as a whole to use reflective practice to understand the challenges of the classroom can help them to become more resilient, supporting their own development and the development of the children that they teach. The Deputy First Minister emphasised the importance of the discussion given the increasing importance that relationships are seen to play in improving educational equity.
The Children & Young People’s Mental Health Task Force is clear that a whole system approach should underpin improvements to the provision of mental health support for children and young people in Scotland. By helping children, young people and their families receive the support they need when they first need it, we can prevent the escalation of mental ill health among young people, with early interventions leading to improved outcomes for children and young people, and a lessening of the demand on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
Teaching is a demanding profession. The demands can be acutely felt by trainee teachers, some of whom begin their career journey as young as 17 years old.. While the transition to higher education brings challenges for all students, those on Initial Teacher Education placements find themselves managing a multitude of relationships, with children, teachers, parents, and mentors.
The mental – and often emotional – requirements placed on students during this time lead many to question whether teaching is for them. Some student teachers face several crises as a result – both within themselves, and in responding to the mental health needs of the children in their care. This reflects a wider challenge in our schools. A recent report for the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland found that 71% of teachers surveyed said that they lacked the right training to help them address mental health concerns with pupils, while 73% felt they had low confidence in their capacity to respond to a child raising concerns about mental health. Just over half (51%) teachers who participated in the survey believed that the pressures of teaching had led them to develop a mental health problem themselves.
Responding to this situation, the Place2Be initiative builds on established practice from the counselling profession, providing a confidential space where student teachers can be helped to reflect on their experience and increase their resilience (referred to as Place2Think). Like many other skillsets, resilience needs to be learned and the availability of an external source of support can be helpful in supporting student teachers to find the time and space to reflect upon their experiences, supporting their personal development and resilience.
Working in conjunction with children’s mental health charity Place2Be, the Universities of Stirling and Edinburgh have embedded Place2Think sessions as part of their initial teacher education provision. The one-to-one reflective sessions provide a confidential space to allow discussion around emotional reactions, responses, beliefs and attitudes, as trainee teachers’ progress with their placements. Led by full-time Place2Be clinicians, embedded in both institutions, the reflective conversations help the student teacher to develop and to navigate the challenges that the profession can present.
Feedback from participants has been encouraging – many explained how the sessions helped them to reflect and modify their own behaviour, both within the classroom and outside. So, while the sessions provide a therapeutic space for those student teachers who participate, they also support the development of skills to help identify and respond to the mental health needs of children that they may encounter in the course of their career.
This whole system approach is a critical factor in making the Place2Think initiative a success. By giving the next generation of teachers the means to reflect on their own experience, we can help strengthen the resilience of the teaching workforce across Scotland, equipping it with the tools to better support the educational needs of future generations, supporting better educational outcomes for all.